Archive for October, 2010

October’s reads and buys

Oh, hi. Oh, hell, more like it. I went home, I came back, things got a bit busy. Here’s a little update on some of my readings & buyings since my last dispatch:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
I was about a hundred pages from the end of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom (which has been reviewed pretty exhaustively all over the place, so I won’t get into it here), when I left for Vancouver and couldn’t quite rationalize lugging it along. So I left it in Halifax and bought a very beat-up copy of The Adventures…, which includes the first twelve Holmes stories, from the airport bookstore during my stopover in Toronto. Although I’m sure I appear anything but, I always feel oddly streamlined when I travel alone, and mysteries with aloof, intrepid sleuths seem to fit my mood while skulking around airports. Although the tight turnaround of each case is pretty satisfying, I’m keen now to check out Holmes in novel length.

Stranger Wycott’s Place by John Schreiber
I found this in one of my dad’s little piles of papers during my visit home. It was published a couple of years ago in New Star Books’ Transmontanus series, which consists mainly of short, oddball books on various aspects of BC history and culture. This one is in the Don McKay vein of creative non-fiction, combining archival research with long tromps around the grasslands in the Cariboo region, a little north of where my parents live. There are some frustrating lapses into bland, non-specific niceties about place and connectedness that seemed more borrowed than really lived, but when he’s out walking or immersed in the trail of patchy family records, piecing together Wycott’s story, Schreiber’s writing is quite sharp. He’s also provided a good basic Cariboo reading list at the back, which I plan to revisit soonish.

Lost River by James Tate
The September issue of Poetry included an essay by Tony Hoagland recommending Tate as a poet “trafficking in disorientation” but with a strong narrative bent, and so he was on my list when I went to Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. Well, actually, first I told myself I wouldn’t start in the poetry section because that was where I got stuck for most of my first visit there last summer. Three hours later I realized I done the very same thing. Lost River is a Quarternote chapbook from Sarabande Books in Louisville, Kentucky. I like chapbooks and there aren’t that many publishers doing them, so I picked this over the full-length collections nearby. Tate’s sensibilities had me from the start. Here are the first few lines from a poem called “Making the Best of the Holidays”:

Justine called on Christmas day to say she
was thinking of killing herself. I said, “We’re
in the middle of opening presents, Justine…

Before I left Powell’s I did squeeze in a quick jog through the North American history section, where I found a very cool letterpress book that will have its own post sometime soon(er than later).

“The Anthologist”

Whew. What a week. Three book launches, Word on the Street, some recuperative vegging to follow, and now where was I? The Anthologist. Briefly: everything I’d hoped a novel about poetry would be. Paul Chowder is narrator, tour guide, largely washed-up but oddly inspiring New England poet mired in the challenge of writing an introduction to an anthology of rhyming poetry. The book is a fascinating defense of formal poetry and a very apt portrait of a poet writing today. It was an indulgent read for me, full of discussion of poetics and trappings of writing life. And so funny, too, all of which is a tall order.

My copy was borrowed from a friend who teaches a first-year university poetry course and it was fun to try to guess what she might be planning to teach from each of the pages she’d folded over. What she could have taught: meter, a basic who’s-who of American poets, how to blast through a bout of writer’s block. It’s all there.

Because I am feeling rather lazy tonight, in lieu of any more of my less-than-inspired thoughts on the matter, I offer instead this great nine-minute recording of Nicholson Baker talking about the process of writing the book:


On Wednesday I head home to BC for an extra-long Thanksgiving and then down to Portland, Oregon. I hope to stop off at some bookstores in my travels. First, the very new Sitka Books & Art in Vancouver, just opened last month by one of the former owners of Duthie’s Books which finally, sadly closed its last store earlier this year. Also Powell’s City of Books in Portland where I will likely while away most of a day. Can’t wait.